Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On DVD: "JB Smoove: That's How I Dooz It"

JB Smoove is so endlessly funny on Curb Your Enthusiasm—such a perfect counterpoint to Larry David, such an effortlessly brilliant scene partner and foil—and has brightened up so many otherwise stillborn movie comedies (Hall Pass, The Sitter), it’s impossible to approach his first stand-up special, J.B. Smoove: That’s How I Dooz It, with anything less than high hopes. And it gives this writer no pleasure to report that those hopes are dashed fairly early on. We have seen, in his other work, that Smoove is a disarming comic actor and a boisterous improvisationalist. What he is not, at least based on this special, is a similarly gifted stand-up.

He’s a lively one, make no mistake about that; he does a high-energy opening, dancing and playing virtual DJ, and continues to give the performance his all. He’s a naturally funny guy, with fast-paced delivery, musical cadences, and a deep and admirable love for profanity. And he’s fun to watch; there’s a wiry, loose-limbed ease to his stage presence—a theatricality, almost. But the energy and enthusiasm of the presentation can’t hide the fact that, more often than not, the material is just plain weak: poorly written, sloppily constructed, heavy and repetition and volume but light on wit (call it the Dane Cook problem).

The topics are wide-ranging—cops, the human body, cooking, sex, sex tapes, working out, perfume, high heels, pile-driving, drinking, relationships, and King Kong’s “johnson"—and the transitions aren’t exactly clean, causing a sensation of the comic constantly stopping and restarting. His point of view is problematic as well; the occasional, casual sexism, for example, is unfortunate (“Your lady got to know how to cook!” he insists, as if he’s Henny Youngman and it’s 1954).

There are funny bits, here and there; he notes that old vans are the only ones good for kidnapping, due to the slow automatic doors of today’s models (“I told you,” he says, taking on the voice of a frustrated criminal, “1980 or lower!”), and there’s a great chunk about the discouragements of going to the gym, where everything is “So. Damn. Heavy. Ain’t no light shit in here?” But other pieces flail and fail, or simply drag past their peak (an initially inspired bit about outrunning cops goes on about twice as long as it should), and once the audience has gotten past the thrill of seeing a funny guy from the TV, you can sense that he’s struggling to keep them, giggling for reassurance, flop-sweating to try and make the material work. When a comic’s persona is as rooted in fierce confidence as his, that can do real damage to an already troubled set.

Smoove is a consistently funny presence in films and on television, and throws himself into his stage act with admirable abandon; he works hard over the course of That’s How I Dooz It’s hour, and you want to reward that hard work with bigger laughs. But it must be said: though gifted performer, he could use a lot of work as a writer.

"JB Smoove: That's How I Dooz It" is out now on DVD. For full A/V and bonus feature details, read this review on DVD Talk.

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